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Issues about Russia Loom Over Trump administration; Airlines Face New Threats; Trump Administration Consists Mostly of Rich People; Tillerson, Mattis Talk Tough On Russia; Surveillance Shows Teacher, Missing Student In Oklahoma; Trump Tweeting About Health Care. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired April 1, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, again, everyone. Thank you for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We're following developments on several stories this afternoon. First, there's a reason for airline fears over ISIS threats. We have now learned the terror group may have cracked the code to make laptops into undetectable bombs.

The White House is trying to defuse a growing problem with a congressional investigation on Russia. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee coming to the White House to get his first look at sensitive information.

And the former trusted member of the Trump team is trying to save his own skin. Former National Security adviser Michael Flynn says he's got a story to tell about Russia, but he won't say a word without immunity.

President Trump weighing in this morning tweeting, quote, "It is the same fake news media that said there is no path to victory for Trump that is now pushing the phony Russia story. A total scam," end quote.

CNN correspondent Ryan Nobles joining me now from the White House.

So Congressman Adam Schiff was critical of the White House, even after accepting their invitation to come see documents. Democrats on the House Oversight Committee are also now wanting to see more. So is the Devin Nunes document controversy now kind of spiraling out of control for this White House?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, at the very least, Fredricka, it's making it very difficult for the Trump administration to push their agenda forward because they have to continue to answer questions about this controversy. And you mentioned this letter from Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee. This is significant because it marks now a second committee that is involved in investigating the White House or members of the White House.

The Oversight Committee separate from the Intel Committee. So the request here from Elijah Cummings would now add a new wrinkle to this overall controversy. Now whether or not the Republican chairman of this committee, Jason Chaffetz, agrees to go along with this, we'll have to wait and see. But it just continues to make it more difficult for the White House to talk about things that they want to talk about like job creation, perhaps repeal -- taking another attempt at health care reform and the like.

So just another difficult situation for the White House to address and something that at this point they haven't necessarily come up with a complete answer for at this time.

WHITFIELD: OK. And then on the issue of immunity, the former National Security adviser Michael Flynn is asking for that in exchange for his testimony. And the president also tweeted about that, encouraging him to get immunity. What does this mean?

NOBLES: Well, what it means is that the White House at this point isn't exactly sure what to do about Michael Flynn in this situation. Sean Spicer did say on Friday that the president and the White House administration wants to see him testify and if he has the opportunity to get immunity, that he should go for it.

But the big thing we should point out here, Fredricka, is that while Michael Flynn has offered up this opportunity and asked for immunity, neither the House or Senate Intel Communities have taken him up on that offer. Both would certainly like the opportunity to interview him but they're not quite ready to take that step of offering immunity as a result of it. So this is certainly an interesting part of this entire situation, and he could play a key role in what ultimately these committees end up finding at the end of their investigation.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan Nobles, thanks so much from the White House, appreciate it.

So did President Trump foreshadow the bizarre and wild two weeks that led to reports alleging White House officials gave House Intel chairman Devin Nunes classified reports?

Let's take a look back.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): Here's President Trump on March 15th hinting at something.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.

WHITFIELD: On March 21st, pressed for evidence of the president's wiretapping claims, Press Secretary Sean Spicer might have done some foreshadowing as well.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Let's see how the week goes.

WHITFIELD: The following day, March 22nd, some started getting suspicious. The chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, who also served on the president's transition team, briefed the media and the White House before his own intelligence committee about getting his hands on intel of incidental collection of Donald Trump and his associates.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: It bothered me enough that I went over to the White House because I think the president needs to see these reports for himself.

WHITFIELD: Nunes presented no evidence but on March 27th, we learned he viewed documents on White House property. The administration's response to questions over communication with Nunes?

SPICER: It doesn't really seem to make a ton of sense.

WHITFIELD: But Thursday, March 30th, "The New York Times" reported two White House officials played a role in providing Congressman Nunes with the evidence he is describing.

[12:05:05] Within minutes of the report hitting, the White House invited the highest ranking lawmakers on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to view classified materials.

Friday, March 31st, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, takes the White House up on that offer. After leaving the White House, he issued a statement which said, quote, "It was represented to me that these are precisely the same materials that were provided to the chairman over a week ago. Nothing I could see today warranted a departure from the normal review procedures and these materials should now be provided to the full membership of both committees.

"The White House has yet to explain why senior White House staff apparently shared these materials with but one member of either committee. Only for their contents to be briefed back to the White House," end quote.

At home in California, Nunes again defended his actions and offered more details on his White House meeting.

NUNES: This is something that I've known about for a very long time from people who were not affiliated at all with the White House or anybody there. The challenge was finding a place to be able to view this information, to be able to get my hands on this information.


WHITFIELD: All right. That's how we got here. Well, now let's talk more about what potentially could come next or how to even understand what just happened. And joining me right now is Timothy Naftali, CNN presidential historian and former director of the Nixon Presidential Library, Salena Zito, CNN contributor, reporter for the "Washington Examiner" and columnist for "The New York Post," and attorney Richard Painter who was an ethics attorney in the George W. Bush administration.

Good to see all of you.

All right. So, Richard, when you listen to what Schiff had to say in his statement and you listen to Nunes justifying what he said really bothered him enough for the White House -- you know, that he needed the White House to see what he saw and then you've got Schiff who said there was nothing that he saw that today warranted a departure from normal review. Is it your feeling that they looked at the same material?

RICHARD PAINTER, ETHICS LAWYER UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't know what they looked at. But Nunes has shown that he cannot conduct a bipartisan investigation. I think he needs to step down from this investigation. At this point, it looks like he's really playing the side of the White House here. We need to have both the Senate and the House Intelligence Committees investigate what went on and who in the United States assisted the Russians in conducting an espionage here and disseminating the information that the Russians discovered through their espionage.

And we cannot have this become a partisan investigation. There needs to be an independent prosecutor appointed by the Justice Department and the House and Senate need to have committees that are going to conduct a bipartisan investigation. That's not what's going on here. So I have no idea what documents he saw. But the way he's conducted himself running back and forth between the White House and the committee and filling in the White House on everything and not telling his colleagues in the committee what's going on is unacceptable and he should step down from this investigation.

WHITFIELD: And Salena, there does seem to be a consensus that Nunes has a big credibility problem because of this kind of behavior over the last couple of weeks. So what's at stake for the House Speaker Paul Ryan to not want to remove Nunes if Nunes is not going to recuse himself?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, the speaker -- it would be hard for me to imagine to ask him that he's going to ask him to step down. Those two have a long and tight bond between each other. Nunes used to go to his briefings when Ryan was just a back bencher and, you know, listen to all his, you know, policy proposals.

WHITFIELD: Yes, but it's an issue of behavior and --

ZITO: Well, no, no.

WHITFIELD: And of Nunes being criticized for not showing allegiance to his job, you know, as a chairman of the intel. But instead allegiance to the Trump administration as formally a member of the Trump transition team.

ZITO: Right. But here's what I think. I've spent several weeks out on the road talking to voters about just this and everything else that has to do with this shadow of Russia on this White House and more importantly on this election. I think voters are very anxious to see the president and the White House and the administration to get this behind them. And that goes for people who did support him as well as people who didn't but are curious to see if he's capable of doing some of the things that he promised.

So I think that what the White House needs to do is get a hold of this story and do whatever it takes to get behind them and not sort of let it just linger out there and get in front of everything that the president wants to accomplish with his agenda.

[12:10:10] WHITFIELD: How does it do that, Tim?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, let's step back a minute and look at what's going on, which is that the White House is actually encouraging a story. The issue of the treatment of the incidental collection of information about American citizens is important, by the way. Those of us -- all of us care about privacy. But when Chairman Nunes looked at this material, which we don't know what it is exactly, but he described some of it. When he looked at is, he said that the collection on these individuals was legal so there's no issue of a criminal action by the Obama administration.

And you compare that to the issue of Russian hacking and the potential -- the possibility that Americans were assisting or at least condoning the Russian intervention on our election and that is a criminal issue. So right now, I think the White House, with the help of Chairman Nunes, is trying to distract us from the main issue which is whether or not there were Americans who assisted the Russians in undertaking covert action during our election campaign.

How does the -- at this point, I don't think the White House wants to get out of the issue so long as the issue is focused on meddling in our election and not focused on whether or not President Obama surveilled members of the Trump campaign and then let his staffers see that information.

WHITFIELD: And so now there are mixed messages, Richard, with Michael Flynn, the former National Security adviser, who says, you know, grant me immunity, and I've got a story to tell. You've got the president of the United States who said, yes, he should get immunity. So is that getting ahead of the story? Is that simply muddying the waters?

PAINTER: Well, this is shocking. We have someone who is going to be our National Security adviser and indeed was for a number of days, and now the administration which is barely two months old.

WHITFIELD: Who was fired.

PAINTER: And he's already talking about turning state's evidence and wanting immunity from prosecution. I think we're going to have to figure out what he has to say, and there needs to be serious consideration given to his request for immunity by the House and Senate, also by an independent prosecutor. But those decisions should be made by people who are not politically driven and that's what continues to shock me here that there is so much politics surrounding a matter that's critical to our national security.

Russia has been trying to undermine Western democracy since the 1917 communist revolution, and they just play a little different playbook now. And they are doing it in France as we speak. So we need to address this. It's a national security issue and if these politicians want to play politics with national security, I think the voters are going to have to throw a lot of them out in 2018.

And we need to find out what Flynn has to say and we need to get to the bottom of this quickly. If there are people who are collaborating with the Russians inside the United States government, we need them out of here, and they probably ought to be in jail.

WHITFIELD: And there are other members of Trump's team or formerly of Trump's team, including Carter Page, you know, Roger Stone, who have been asked to testify or at least their words are, you know, being awaited on any kind of testimony they give to the House or Senate. Here's what Roger Stone actually had to say last night on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."


BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME": Let's talk about Michael Flynn. He says he has a story to tell. Tell me a story.


MAHER: What -- what is the story? Let's talk about -- what do you think his story is?

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I have no idea but here's what I do know. I'm not asking for immunity. I was maligned by a number of the members of the committee who said things that were patently false and in a free society I should have a chance to respond in the same forum.

MAHER: Of course. No one would disagree with that.

STONE: And I don't want -- need a subpoena.

MAHER: Right.

STONE: I don't need immunity.

MAHER: Right.

STONE: But I want it to be in public, not behind closed doors. Let's go. I'm ready.


WHITFIELD: So, Salena, whether it will offer more clarity or confusion, whatever happens with the House or the Senate, how do you see it potentially impacting the FBI investigation?

ZITO: Who knows? Right? I mean, simply put. I mean, this is so chaotic and there are so many turns and there's so many sort of intrigues. I think, as I said before, the best thing to happen is to get this out here. As Stone said, put them out on the stand. Have him talk. Have Flynn talk. I think that the American people, whether they like President Trump or

not, they really want to get this behind them no matter what the outcome is. So that the country can move forward and real problems that need to be addressed that I see all the time out on the road are taken care of. And so I just think it's just -- I cannot say this enough. It's just so important to get this out there and get it behind us no matters what the outcome is.

[12:15:02] WHITFIELD: All right. We've got so much more.

Salena, Timothy, Richard, stick around.

Also straight ahead in the NEWSROOM, after a late-night document dump, we just learned how wealthy many members of the Trump administration are. Some of the financial -- disclosures, rather, just might surprise you.

And a new threat to airliners. Terror groups have designed a new explosive that could pass through security undetected. Details coming up.


WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Sources tell CNN that ISIS and other terror groups are developing a new bomb. It's made to fit into laptops and go undetected through airport security. CNN has learned that the intelligence about these devices is the same intelligence behind the recent ban on laptops in the cabins of certain airlines arriving into the U.S.

For more now, I'm joined by Pentagon reporter Ryan Brown and former specialist for Homeland Security and TSA, Paul Schmick.

Good to see both of you.

So, Ryan, you first. You know, tell us more about this intelligence. What's been uncovered?

[12:20:05] RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: That's right, Fredricka. The intelligence was deemed credible by multiple U.S. officials, and what they are saying, one official described it as hair-raising.

Now as you mentioned, they see terrorist groups, including al Qaeda's franchises in Syria, Yemen, and ISIS, developing a technology that would allow for bombs to be hidden in laptops and go undetected. Now Al Qaeda in Yemen in particular has long been a pioneer in nonmetallic bombs. Bombs that are very hard to detect. And what they are starting to see is some of these technical details being shared amongst these various terror groups and that is very concerning. And that's one of the things that helped prompt this ban.

WHITFIELD: So, Paul, how concerned are you about this threat?

PAUL SCHMICK, FORMER SPECIALIST, HOMELAND SECURITY AND TSA: Good afternoon, Fredricka. So we've seen this before over the last decade with the threats coming from electronic devices. I think the problem to note with electronic devices, this story is somewhat morphing from where it was two weeks ago where there was a concern of lithium batteries and potential fires in the cabin to now two weeks later where we are that there's a direct threat with intelligence.

So this is no different than we've seen before. There must be a lot of intelligence to get it to this level. And what I will say is that these devices, the amount of sophistication in them as we move forward, they are just trying to get better and better to avoid aviation security measures.

WHITFIELD: So whether this device is in the cabin or whether it's, you know, in the storage bins below, I mean, does it lessen the threat in your view, if it's checked versus weather someone carries it on?

SCHMICK: So there's four components in improvised explosive device. And what we know is that if you check it in the hull or the cargo area of a plane, what you are left with is you need all four components. When you bring it onto the cabin of a plane, the human can serve as part of the switch. And so you need less components and less sophistication if you were to detonate them in the passenger area of a plane. And I believe we saw that with the February 2016 Somalia threat where the individual detonated it and, thank goodness, nobody lost their lives in that incident.

WHITFIELD: And in your view, what kind of technology is needed in order to detect a bomb like this, whether it's through the magnetometers or whether there's some other means before you board a flight?

SCHMICK: So this is the challenge. So any type of imaging technology, even if you and I were to go to get an x-ray right now, metal of any compound, whether we have jewelry on, if we go for an x- ray, can obstruct what is truly behind that obstruction.

Laptops have metal in them, they have components in them, and they somewhat could be used as a mask to hide explosives material. So that's the real threat. It's not just that technology is not out there. And the U.S. has incredible technology to detect these types of devices but overseas not understanding or not knowing the type of technology they have, obviously, intelligence at this level has really pushed the U.S. to act, meaning in this way so that ultimately we can get our arms around where these threats are coming from.

WHITFIELD: All right. Paul Schmick, Ryan Browne, thanks to both of you, gentlemen. Appreciate it.

SCHMICK: Have a good day.

WHITFIELD: Thank you. All right. Straight ahead. We know they're rich, but how much did they make last year? We'll peek into the finances of some of the president's closest advisers next.


[12:27:41] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. President Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner could have more than $700 million in overall assets. The White House released financial disclosure forms on the couple and about other -- another 180 advisers. And they show that the president's daughter and son-in-law made about $195 million in income just last year. Economic adviser Gary Cohn pulled in around $75 million and chief strategist Steve Bannon's income was about $2.5 million.

Let's get some perspective on this financial snapshot. We're joined again by CNN presidential historian Timothy Naftati, CNN contributor Salena Zito and Richard Painter, former White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration.

All right, So, Richard, you first. You know, what do the complex holdings of these millionaires mean for government ethics watchdogs?

PAINTER: Well, they are more like billionaires, most of them, than millionaires. And I'm not sure what they're going to do for the middle class. But the criminal conflict of interest statute does apply to them unlike the president. So for example, Ivanka and Jared are going to have to stay out of anything that has a direct or predictable impact on the real estate industry, and that includes a lot of financial services regulation because the banks are lending money to real estate. And that encourages, of course, a real estate bubble, financial services bubble until the whole thing bust.

They need to stay out of that. Dodd-Frank repealed all of that. They need to stay out of tax reform if it involved special provisions for the real estate industry. And they're both going to need to stay out of trade because Ivanka is importing clothing and putting her name on it. And selling it a lot more than she makes it overseas. So those are three very big issues that both of them are going to have to stay away from.


PAINTER: And the White House staff members have some difficulties.

WHITFIELD: And in the case of Ivanka, she still has a stake, you know, in the D.C. Trump International Hotel and if the president continues to or does invite others particularly out of states people to visit that hotel, does that create a new problem particularly for Ivanka since she's now a federal employee and an adviser? Richard?

PAINTER: Absolutely. The best solution is for both the president and Ivanka to sell off their interests in that hotel.

[12:30:00] But once again, she's subject to the criminal conflict of interest statute. So that means that she cannot go over to that hotel in her official capacity. She cannot participate in any matters in the White House that involve that hotel or she would risk violating the conflict of interest statute.

So that hotel is going to continue to be a big problem for her, as well as for her father if they don't sell their interest in the hotel

WHITFIELD: And just yesterday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended the number of millionaires and in your case you mentioned, Richard, billionaires surrounding the President. This is what he had to say.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President has brought a lot of people into this administration in this White House in particular who have been very blessed and very successful by this country. And have given up a lot to come into government by setting aside a lot of assets. And I think it speaks volumes to the desire for a lot of these people to fulfill the President's vision.


WHITFIELD: So Salena, Trump did run as a champion of the working class. Is that message lost when you talk about this kind of wealth?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, not really because here's the thing we have to remember. Voters understood who they were voting for. They understood that this guy was rich. They understood, you know, the big hotels, the cars, the T.V. show, you know, the grandiosity of his personality and his successes and his, you know, even when his bankruptcies. So, you know -- I mean, he was like one of the most well-known people to run for President because they have known who he was for decades.

Sure, he's surrounded by millionaires and billionaires. I mean, rich people tend to be around other very highly successful people. What needs to be important here is their empathy and willingness to get down on the ground and understand what is wrong with the economy because almost all of what drove this election was economic challenges. And people wanting to be part of something bigger.

So, I don't think the amount of zeros is a problem as long as the members of this administration empathize and listen to the concerns of the working class that essentially put him into office.

WHITFIELD: Timothy, how do you see it?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, the reason we have these disclosure rules is that the American people express through Congress and a series of presidents decided that undue influence could hurt our political process. That's why. We are worried about people with interests other than the public interest making decisions for us.

So there are two things to look at here. One, it's that I don't believe that the Trump base wanted one swamp to replace another swamp. And the problem with a family that continues to undertake business and the head of that family happens to be our president is that it's not only vulnerable at home, it's vulnerable abroad.

The Trump Empire has a set of interests that are not necessarily those of the United States government. President Trump is head of one and still interested in the other. And I think that's the issue for Americans is the extent to which decisions will be made by the White House that are in the interest of the American people, not necessarily in the interests of the very rich people that happen to be in the White House and be associated with the White House. WHITFIELD: And so, Richard, you know, the White House has disclosed this kind of information. Is this an honest move by the White House, or is it a distraction or does it call more attention to the fact the President of the United States has not revealed as much about his financial assets as his staffers are now doing?

PAINTER: Well, he has not revealed what we need to know about his assets. And we also don't know what we need to know about the assets of Ivanka and Jared and all the rest of these people, because most of the debt and other activity is at the corporate level. So they control a corporation. We have no idea who is loaning money to that corporation. It could be Citibank, State Street Bank, a Russian bank. We have no idea because that's not on the financial disclosure form.

We have a right to know that. And, you know, the notion that these people do something for the middle class, I think that's a sad joke. And we -- the American people have the right at least to know what they own and who they owe money to if they are going to, because they say they're more successful than the rest of us, want to take over this government and make decisions for the entire country. And the disclosure regime is inadequate.

I wrote about that in an op-ed yesterday in the "L.A. Times." The Congress needs to amend the statute so we can get down into these corporations (INAUDIBLE) and find out who they're doing business with around the world particularly people in charge of international trade, national security and issues that are critical to this country.

[12:35:07] WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it right there. Richard Painter, Salena Zito, Timothy Naftali, thanks so much to all of you. Appreciate it.

NAFTALI: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Meantime, live pictures right now. Vice President Mike Pence is speaking at a roundtable in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Of course, we'll be taking those remarks next hour monitoring them for you and let you know what he says.

Plus, still ahead in the CNN Newsroom, two of the president's men overseas with one objective. Present a united front to allies. Their blunt message on Russia, next.


WHITFIELD: All right. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis are both taking strong stances on Russia's aggression in Ukraine. And addressing NATO's relationship with the U.S. during separate trips to Europe. CNN's Nic Robertson has details.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His first visit to NATO HQ as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came to deliver a clear message. [12:40:05] Allies must pay their way to meet the 2 percent GDP defense spend threshold.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have three important areas we want to talk about. First is ensuring that NATO has all of the resources, financial and otherwise.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): A few hundred miles away, James Mattis on his first trip to London as U.S. Secretary of Defense, also offering a corrective to President Trump's assertion NATO is obsolete.

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The point I would make is that NATO stands united. The transatlantic bond is united.

ROBERTSON: And London, the joined up message received loud and clear. The U.K., one of only four NATO allies, meeting that 2 percent threshold.

MICHAEL FALLON, U.K. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Secretary Mattis and I have agreed that others must now raise their game. And those failing to meet the 2 percent commitment so far should at least agree to year-on- year real terms increases.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The Mattis/Tillerson coordination belies what many see as the chaos of Trump's administration so far. On Russia, both secretaries also joining forces to contradict Trump's early thwart toward Putin and ready NATO for more aggression.

MATTIS: Russia's violations of international law are now a matter of record.

TILLERSON: We want to, obviously, have a discussion around NATO's posture here in Europe, most particularly Eastern Europe in response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere.


WHITFIELD: CNN's International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson joining me now from London. So Nic, the President has been very hesitant to criticize Russia. Is it significant that Tillerson and Mattis are taking strong stances?

ROBERTSON: It certainly get seems to be getting under the skin of the Russians -- the Russian embassy here in London today. They tweeted that Mattis and Fallon together, you know, what there's nothing there was their point we've heard from the spokesman of the Russian president saying that he feels this is a situation like the Cold War. Worse than the Cold War even.

So, it really is this change from Trump's position to what we're hearing from the secretaries of state and defense. It is getting under the Russian skin, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Secretary Tillerson and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer both commenting on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad just yesterday. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TILLERSON: The status and the longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.

SPICER: There is a political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now. We lost a lot of opportunity the last administration with respect to Assad. And I think that our restatement that both U.N. Ambassador Haley gave yesterday and Secretary of State Tillerson reflects the reality.


WHITFIELD: And how is this going over with our allies?

ROBERTSON: You know, we got a taste of that yesterday. James Mattis asked that question alongside Michael Fallon. He said that Assad would take it one day at a time. The British Secretary of Defense said, well, we don't believe that someone who bombs their people can stay their leader for very long.

The real read between the lines of what Secretary Mattis has said over here in Europe at least is that the U.S. doesn't really have a policy on Assad and that was reflected. We heard that from the French foreign minister saying we want to know the details of what America is thinking. We want the peace talks in Geneva to succeed and of course the U.S. position at those talks in Geneva has been key to pushing them along so far.

So, yes, if this is a change in U.S. position, there's certainly concern in Europe, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Nic Robertson, thank you so much from London. And we'll be right back.



[12:48:13] CHRISTINA STEMBEL, CEO OF FARMGIRL FLOWERS: Welcome to Farmgirl Flowers. I grew up on a farm in Indiana. It was corn and soybeans. But I ended up in San Francisco. I was in hospitality and they would buy a lot of flowers.

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And then the second issue I'd never thought about is waste. Forty percent of the flowers that are grown are never sold. They end up in compost bins. So I was like, OK, let's figure out a solution to all of these. And that's how I came up with Farmgirl Glowers.

Our model is that we offer one daily arrangement made of 100 percent American grown flowers. So everything that we buy, we're going to use them. We're not going to throw them away. And then the other side of it, what that does for us is it allows us to offer designer quality arrangements at generic eCommerce prices.

We're growing really, really well. I need to pinch myself for something that's pretty amazing. I've always been environmentally focused. More importantly I've always been integrity driven. I care first and foremost about taking care of people and I want to create a work environment that I'd want to work at if I wasn't the owner.


WHITFIELD: All right. Now to the Tennessee manhunt. Newly released surveillance video showing a missing teenager and her suspected kidnapper. Fifty-year-old Tad Cummins who was a teacher at the girl's school. This is the very first confirmed sighting of Cummins and the 15-year old Elizabeth Thomas since the two disappeared on March 13th. CNN's Polo Sandoval is here to give us an update on this massive search.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So Fred, here's a story behind this video. This was shot about 2.5 weeks ago at a Walmart in Oklahoma City, it's about 650 miles west of where the initial disappearance or this alleged kidnapping took place in Culleoka, Tennessee.

[12:50:07] The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations said agents received a tip a few days ago this week that led them to that Walmart in Oklahoma City. A review of this archived surveillance video shows these images here where authorities confirm, you can see the Tad Cummins on the left and Elizabeth Thomas.

Several things to key -- to note here, Fred. You have -- not only these first images since the disappearance on March 13th, but you also see that the 50-year-old man, of course from authorities (ph), has darker hair and then you see the alleged victim here, kind a reddish color to her hair as well. So they have, obviously, changed their appearance. Authorities not sure what could be behind that obviously, but I can tell you that Amber Alerts are still in effect right now. She is believed to have been kidnapped. Police have issued this Amber Alert in both Spanish and English -- or English and Spanish as well. They changed that this week.

Investigators still hope, although this video again is still from about 2.5 weeks ago, they hope that this will help breathe new life --


SANDOVAL: -- into this investigation.

WHITFIELD: And of course investigators will be analyzing their demeanor as well.

SANDOVAL: That's going to be key. Absolutely. Was she in any form of distress? She doesn't appear to but, of course, investigators will ultimately have to decide that.

WHITFIELD: All right. Polo Sandoval, thank you so much for that update. All right. Still ahead, it began as a secret practice. Now it's on full display on Mexican streets, a preview of CNN's show "Believer" straight ahead.


[12:55:32] WHITFIELD: In tonight's episode of "Believer" with Reza Aslan, Aslan traces the origins of a rising devotion to Santa Muerte, or the Holy Death. A movement that began as a secret practice but now is on display throughout the streets of Mexico.


REZA ASLAN, CNN SHOW BELIEVER HOST (voice-over): Dona Queta has become one of the most unlikely of religious crusaders. It started when her son give her Santa Muerte statue that was too big for her tiny house so she put it outside on the sidewalk.

At the time, Santa Muerte devotion was a secret and private affair. People were amazed that Dona Queta's brazenly public act of devotion. They took their cue from her. They started bringing out their own Santa Muerte statues, displaying them publicly. They began flocking to Dona Queta's house in solidarity with her.

Next thing you knew, this small house in the middle of a tough neighborhood became a kind of Mecca for Santa Muerte devotees all across Mexico.

(on camera): So many people come here from all over Mexico with their offerings, with their prayers, and I notice that they all have something very specific that they're asking for, whether it's love or a job or protection. When you pray to Santa Muerte, is there something specific that you ask for?





WHITFIELD: Reza Aslan joining me live now from Los Angeles. So Reza, what was the most eye-opening part of your experience?

ASLAN: Well, look, most people think that Santa Muerte is a religion for criminal and narcotraffickers and prostitutes and really sort of the people at the very fringes of society. That's certainly what the Catholic Church in Mexico says.

What was remarkable to me was just how widespread this devotion was. That it's little old ladies and doctors and lawyers and police officers over the last decade or so. Santa Muerte has really begun to infiltrate almost every level of Mexican society, and even more interesting, it's now starting to come into the United States.

WHITFIELD: So what's behind that increase?

ASLAN: Well, part of it has to do with a lack of security. Many Mexicans, as you know from your reporting, feel as though the state has abandoned them. That it won't protect them any longer. That they -- because they can't rely on the law, they can't rely on the police. They can't rely on the hospitals. And many of them also feel as though the Catholic Church has left them behind.

And so, in a way, Santa Muerte becomes the saint who gives them the protection that they need. These are, in many ways, people who feel as though they have no other place to turn to.

WHITFIELD: Reza Aslan, thank you so much. We look forward to it. Don't miss this CNN Original Series "Believer" with Reza Aslan Sundays at 10:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

Right now, the next hour of the newsroom starts.

Hello again, everyone and thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The White House is trying to change the topic again today away from Russia. The President is talking about health care, the failing "New York Times" finally gets it in places where no insurance company offers plans, there will be no way for Obamacare customers to use subsidies to buy health plans. The words from the President there in a tweet. In other words, Obamacare is dead. Good things will happen, however, either Republicans or Dems.

CNN Correspondent Ryan Nobles is at the White House. So, is the President trying to change the subject or just continuing his health care fight with his own party?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he certainly doesn't want to talk about this investigation into Russia's meddling in the American election, that's for sure, Fredricka. But the topic of health care is one that is interesting for the President to take on because they did fall short of that plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

But it's clear from these tweets this morning and what the President has had to say over the past week that he's not giving up on the idea of taking another run at health care. It's important to point out, though, at this point there's no tangible plan on the table. And there's no real idea coming from the Congress or the White House that they have a plan in place to take another run at this.